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26-year-old Roseville woman guilty of killing “friend”

A Placer County jury today found a 26-year-old Roseville woman guilty of the first-degree murder of her longtime friend, whose throat had been cut and whose body was found lying under a pile of trash on the side of a road in 2008.

The jury also determined that the defendant, Stephanie Nicole Erends, used a deadly weapon to kill Alicia Ernst, 24, of Citrus Heights and that Erends was ‘lying in wait’ when the crime was committed on March 8, 2008.

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The murder conviction and the two enhancements are expected to send Erends to prison for life without possibility of parole when she returns for sentencing before Placer County Superior Court Judge Colleen Nichols on Feb. 10, 2010.

The victim’s brother, Brandon Ernst of Citrus Heights, was pleased with the jury”s verdict.

‘We are relieved that it’s over,’ he said. ‘Justice has been served.’

Alicia Martens, the victim’s mother, said the verdict ‘won’t bring my daughter back, but at least we know that (Erends) won’t be able to hurt anyone else.’

During the trial, prosecutor Garen Horst of the Placer County District Attorney’s Office introduced evidence and called witnesses to establish that Erends had killed Ernst in a surprise attack while the victim was sitting unaware in the front passenger seat with her seat belt strapped on.

According to Horst, a razor-sharp scraping tool was used in the murder.  Erends had broken the handle of it and placed the tool in the back seat prior to the attack, he said.

In her interview with detectives, Erends had stated that she planned to kill Ernst because Ernst had allegedly poured acid down her throat.

At trial, Horst argued that the alleged motive was more complex and that it involved a longterm resentment culminating on the night of the murder when Ernst had teased and humiliated Erends in front of Ernst’s boyfriend.

There was also evidence that Erends believed that Ernst had had an affair with a former boyfriend of Erends.

After killing Ernst, Erends pulled the body from the car, tried to cut the victim’s fingers off to prevent fingerprint identification, poured ammonia on the victim and then tossed garbage on the body to keep it from being discovered.

After her arrest several days later, Erends told Placer County Sheriff’s detectives Don Murchison and Christina Woo that she drove Ernst to a remote location on Walerga Road, parked where she knew there was trash on the side of the road and climbed into the back seat of the car to carry out the attack from behind.

Recordings of the interviews with the detectives were played during the trial and the jury was provided with transcripts.

Erends, who hoped for a verdict of voluntary manslaughter, which carries a far less sentence, testified in the trial and tried to recant the incriminating statements she had given to the detectives.

She denied planning the attack, saying she had reacted in anger as she and Ernst sat in the car on Walerga Road at about 3:30 a.m. Erends said she  confronted her friend over making fun of her several hours earlier at the home of Ernst’s boyfriend.

The two began fighting and pulling each other’s hair in the front seat, Erends testified. She then reached into a door panel for the scraping tool and began slashing at Ernst but did not intend to kill her, she said.

Erends said she panicked after realizing what she had done and tried to cover up the crime. Erends said she initially gave detectives the more incriminating story about planning the crime because she felt it was what they wanted to hear and because she felt guilty about what she had done.

Erends stated that she didn’t listen to her Miranda Rights warnings and didn”t know that she could stop talking to the detectives.

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